Making the most of sport outside of regular trading hours

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sport never sleeps: as sport is a 24/7 business, how can pubs provide the best in entertainment while others sleep?
Sport never sleeps: as sport is a 24/7 business, how can pubs provide the best in entertainment while others sleep?
Not all sport will take place at times to suit the UK, but how can you cash in on activity that takes place during unsociable hours?

November/December fixture list

23-27 November – Cricket - ​Sri Lanka v England, 3rd​ test, Colombo – Sky Sports

24-25 November – F1 - ​Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend – Sky Sports

24 November – Autumn Internationals

Scotland v Argentina – BBC1 and BT Sport

England v Australia – Sky Sports

Wales v South Africa – BBC2

Ireland v USA – Channel 4

24 November - Premier League -​ Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea - BT Sport

25 November – EFL Championship - ​Aston Villa v Birmingham City – Sky Sports

25 November – Premier League

Bournemouth v Arsenal – Sky Sports

Wolves v Huddersfield Town – Sky Sports

25 November – FIH Women’s Hockey World Cup

Third and fourth place play off – BT Sport

Final – BT Sport

26 November – Premier League -​ Burnley v Newcastle United – Sky Sports

27 November – UEFA Champions League

Lyon v Manchester City – BT Sport

Manchester United v Young Boys – BT Sport

27 November – Netball –​ England v Uganda – Sky Sports

28 November – UEFA Champions League

PSG v Liverpool – BT Sport

Tottenham Hotspur v Inter Milan – BT Sport

29 November – UEFA Europa League

Vorskla Poltava v Arsenal – BT Sport

Chelsea v PAOK Salonika – BT Sport

30 November – Netball ​– England v Uganda – Sky Sports

30 November – FIH World Cup Hockey - ​England v China – BT Sport

1 December – Premier League -​ Southampton v Manchester United – BT Sport

1 December – Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury ​– BT Sport Box Office

2 December – Premier League

Chelsea v Fulham – Sky Sports

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur – Sky Sports

Liverpool v Everton – Sky Sports

While there are plenty of reasons someone might want to trash Tottenham’s pitch the day before they host arguably the most ruthless side of the Premier League era, cashing in on American sport probably isn’t as obvious as the NFL logo and gridiron that emblazoned the Wembley surface for Manchester City’s recent visit.

Wembley hosting action from the NFL on three consecutive weekends in October, and Sky Sports recently cashing in on the rights to broadcast the NBA in the UK, demonstrate the value and popularity of American sports in the UK.

But with ­fixtures regularly taking place in the early hours, can pubs really reap the rewards of Stateside sport?

Bring in the die-hards

Stonegate Pub Company chief executive Simon Longbottom acknowledges that pubs will likely have to do a bit more legwork in the run-up to a big sporting event in the early hours to defy expectation that they won’t be showing it.

“Die-hard aficionados of late-night sports events, like WWE Wrestlemania, rarely assume they can get together with like-minded fans in a pub,” Longbottom explains. “Therefore, marketing and promoting the event is crucial to attracting customers.

“However, this isn’t sufficient to get fans through the door. We need to give them a reason to watch and keep watching with us and that means delivering a fun and exciting real-time experience. Our high levels of investment and innovation in our sports offer underpin this.

“One poor sports event can break a venue’s reputation with fans, so preparation is key. That means having early conversations with relevant authorities about the match, risk assessing the event and using a pre-booking or ticketing system to maximise occupancy early and allocate resource accordingly.

“If a venue gets all of this right, the dividends are obvious.”

Numbers game

While in the year leading up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Anthony Joshua’s boxing uni­fication bout with New Zealand’s Joseph Parker was heralded as one of the most lucrative for Stonegate pubs, yielding an average uplift per site of £1,725 and, on average, 288 additional customers, events at seemingly unsociable hours more than held their own.

Whether you classed it as sport or not, Floyd Mayweather’s ­fight with two-weight UFC champion Conor McGregor in August 2017 offered Stonegate pubs an average uplift of £1,922, and an extra 320 customers, while the double header of Superbowl LII and Wrestlemania on 8 April 2018 generated almost double the uplift usually seen during Champions League knockout ­fixtures.

Offering bang for your buck

Sophie Herbert of Beds & Bars highlights that one of its sites, Belushi’s the Dugout in London Bridge, has made a roaring success of hosting ticketed sporting events in the early hours – although offering added value to justify customers’ extra time and money is paramount.

She says: “The major ones for us are boxing, NFL and sometimes college basketball, but then also Australian sports like the Australian Football League Grand Final and State of Origin rugby league. But it’s not just about switching the screens on and serving beer, it’s ensuring we’ve got experiential entertainment and information available.

“When we do host events, we heavily invest. For example, for the Superbowl we invest in things like live music, beer pong competitions, wing eating contests, and we get cheerleaders in. We’ve had ex-NFL players in and hosted panels as well. We do that throughout the event to keep people engaged so we can justify charging a little bit more.”

Live monitoring sales

However, Herbert highlights that the biggest challenge they face is getting enough people through the door to make putting on all that extra entertainment worthwhile.

“­There’s no point leaving a bar open until 4am for boxing and then nobody turns up,” Herbert explains. “The way we’ve overcome that in the past is just by massively driving pre-booked sales. That way we can ensure customers join a guest list or purchase tickets in advance so we can start to monitor numbers.

“Another thing we do as well, which works really well for us and has driven quite a lot of incremental revenue, is also by yield managing our tickets. We’ll often start out with a base price and promote it as an early bird ticket or package, then as we start to fill up occupancy, we start to increase the price slightly.

“We’ve found that really helps getting early customers booking so then we can guarantee that it’s worth opening up the venue for a 4am game, getting staff in, applying for the TENs (temporary event notices) and buying the game passes.”

Multiple operations

“If you get people in at 7pm, 8pm or 9pm, by the time the actual game comes around they’re very used to their environment and a bit ‑ fidgety,” Herbert explains. “What we try to do is run a normal night’s trade and then do a bit of a turnover with customers.

“Say a game is at 3am, we will continue a regular night’s trade, but then when the venue shuts we do a quick turnaround where regular customers would leave and the new ones would come in. We ‑ find that you really maximise opportunities that way – if you get customers in super early, they’re likely to be pretty hammered by the time the game starts.

“We almost run it as a separate event where we would change the operation from a regular night’s trade and then run a separate session after that.”

Extra precautions

According to specialist licensing solicitor Poppleston Allen, operators looking to trade outside permitted trading hours will usually require a TEN. While some premises licences contain conditions allowing them longer hours during certain sporting events, these are individually worded and often require approval from the police or local authorities.

Any operators without such conditions will need to submit a TEN within the statutory time-frame – 10 working days for a standard TEN, and ‑ ve to nine working days for a ‘late TEN’.

Given that police and environmental health officers can object to TENs, and have right of veto on late TENs, operators should consult them beforehand to discuss potential concerns.

December fixture focus: Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury

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Saturday 1 December on BT Sport Box Office

Wilder v Fury is not only a big potential crowd puller in its own right, it can also act as a curtain raiser to a fight involving Anthony Joshua next spring

The pre-fight promotion of Deontay Wilder’s world title defence against Tyson Fury has been pure pantomime.

However, aside from all the goading, shouting and punching of cartoon mascots wearing sombreros, this fight represents serious business for pubs.

MatchPint’s Dom Collingwood explains: “While two years ago we were all thinking about boxing just being about Anthony Joshua, there seems to have been a tidal wave of interest in boxing much more generally.

“There’s an interesting thing with Fury in that there’s this unfinished business – him having been the first guy to defeat Klitschko.

“At that time, it wasn’t really that much of a big deal. We didn’t get that many searches for it on MatchPint, and I don’t think the Box Office receipts were huge, but since then Anthony Joshua has almost pulled Tyson Fury with him in terms of interest.

“Three weeks out we’ve already had 2,000 unique searches for pubs showing the fight – which is not quite where a Joshua fight would be but, to give it some context, that’s miles ahead of where a Manchester derby or an England Six Nations match would be three weeks out. It’s clearly going to be a big, big fight.”

With Wilder’s WBC belt the only one not in Anthony Joshua’s grasp, and the British heavyweight champion having already booked an April date at Wembley – with the opponent to be confirmed – Collingwood highlights that Wilder versus Fury provides operators with a huge opportunity, assuming the winner goes on to fight AJ next year.

“Either Wilder or Fury versus Joshua would be absolutely enormous. I think that it’s a really good point that there is a huge revenue generating opportunity around the corner in April – assuming that the winner of this fights Anthony Joshua.

“What you need to be saying is ‘we are the place to watch boxing?’. If you’re not taking part in this and someone goes to your competitor down the road or has a great time at home, come five months’ time they’re probably going to be repeating the same behaviour.

“If you can put on a great night for Fury v Wilder, it’s almost a win-win in the sense that you’re not just getting the benefit of that footfall now, you’re also setting up those customers for five months’ time.”

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